Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The force for Canea and Suda Bay

For the 20 May 1941 attack, the situation went badly for the force to attack Canea and Suda Bay. The division commander and his staff were in five gliders. One crashed on a Greek island near Athens and General Sussman and the others in his glider were killed. That left Colonel Heidrich, the 3rd Regiment commander, in charge of the division. One battalion of the 3rd Regiment landed near the prison, captured a commanding position overlooking the prison, and advanced to the east. They met a company from one of the other battalions. They were stopped by the "Royal Perivolians" and Greeks. Near galatas, another company of the third battalion of the 3rd Regiment took almost total losses. When Colonel Heidrich landed at 9am, near the prison, he took charge of organizing the forces nearby to make progress. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The West Group attack on 20 May 1941

Glider-borne troops were a key part of the West Group attack in Crete on 20 May 1941. The gliders were able to land where they were intended. They had three initial assignments: capture the camp near the airfield, capture the anti-aircraft guns "at the mouth of the Tavronitis", and also capture the bridge. The bridge was across the river, where the anti-aircraft guns were positioned. The III Battalion, which was to capture the airfield, was landed in the wrong place. They landed in the hills instead, as the aircraft commanders did not want to risk landing the men in the sea. Because of this, 400 of the 600 men were killed. The IV Battalion was planned to land west of the bridge. General Meindl landed with the IV Battalion and organized the attack on the airfield. The General had planned and executed an attack on the bridge, but was soon wounded. A major then took command of the leading troops. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The German force deployment for Crete

The German troops attacking Crete were divided into three groups. General Meindl commanded the West Group. The West Group had the entire Assault Regiment, except for a half-battalion, a mixed light anti-aircraft and machine gun battalion, along with a medical platoon. The West Group was intended to capture the airfield at Maleme and hold it so that transport aircraft could operate from the field. The West Group had other missions, as well. They were to conduct a reconnaissance to the west and to push to the south and east to join with the Center Group. General Sussman commanded the Center Group. General Sussman was commanding officer of the 7th Air Division. Center Group had the 3rd Parachute Regiment, the half-battalion of glider-borne troops from teh Assault Regiment, and the engineer battalion (pioneers). The Center Group was to capture Canea and Suda. Center Group also had most of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, except for one battalion. The 2nd Parachute Regiment was to capture Retimo. Once capturing Retimo, they were to head west to attack Suda Bay. The East Group consisted of four battalions of paratroops. They were to capture the airfield at Heraklion and the town. They were also to aid bringing in troops by sea. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More about the original attack plan for Crete in 1941

The original German attack plan for Crete for May 1941 was that the 7th Air Division and the 1st Assault Regiment would be dropped on Crete. After the airfields were taken, some of the mountain troops would be flown in by transport aircraft (Ju-52). The rest would be brought by sea, probably carried by Greek caiques. There were 750 glider borne troops in the assault regiment and 10,000 paratroops. Some 5,000 mountain troops would be flown in to the captured airfields. The other 7,000 mountain troops would come by sea. They had enough planes to fly in 70 or 80 gliders and somewhere between 600 and 750 Ju-52 transport aircraft. In one lift, they could bring 5,000 t0 6,000 troops with their equipment. The VIII Air Corps would provide air support to the attack. They would start the operation with 430 dive bombers. There were only 180 fighter aircraft with which to establish control of the air. They were helped by the extreme scarcity of British fighter aircraft. The Germans also had 40 reconnaissance aircraft for the operation. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

General Lohr

When you realize that General Lohr was an Austrian, we can realize that he was an old Balkan hand. He had fought in the Great War, in the Austrian-Hungarian army. Postwar, he became involved with the Austrian air force, a very small organization. Before Austria was annexed into Germany, General Lohr was head of the Austrian air force. The second letter in his name actually was an O with an umlaut over it. General Lohr concocted the scheme to capture the bridge over the Corinth canal and successfully executed the operation. The operation was conducted without the knowledge of General Student, the head of the German airborne forces. General Lohr was the head of the operation to capture Crete in May 1941. He eventually ended up in the Balkans at the end of the Second World War and surrendered to Yugoslav partisans. They did not like his bombing of Belgrade during the initial attack and he was executed in 1947 for his part in the operation.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The XI Air Corps

The German airborne force included the 7th Air Division, which was the paratroops, the 1st Assault Regiment, the glider-borne troops, "and the aircraft group". The aircraft group was equipped with the transport aircraft that were used to carry troops. The glider troops had a regiment of four battalions. Each battalion had four companies (a square organization). The Air Division was not a square organization, as the division had three regiments of three battalions of paratroops. The regiments had an artillery company and an anti-tank company. The 5th Mountain Division was also part of the corps. The intent was that they would largely come by sea, but some would fly into Crete on transport aircraft. In the event, because of the strength of the Royal Navy, the mountain troops were flown into Crete in sufficient strength to overwhelm the defenders. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Airborne attack lessons from Crete

The Germans overreacted to the problems with the airborne attack on Crete and decided to not make such an attack again. I would say that at least Hitler misread the situation. Yes, making a daylight parachute attack on defenders who expect the attack does not work well. The casualties among German paratroops at Crete were high because they were dropped onto defending troops who then shot the paratroops during the descent. The Allies were so impressed by the concept that they formed their own airborne divisions, including parachute-equipped paratroops.

The glider-borne troops were much more successful. They were largely dropped and landed near, not on, the targets to be attacked. A few gliders were dropped too far at sea and were lost with their passengers, but most were able to land on the island. They were in numbers large enough to form cohesive units that were able to capture the airfield at Maleme. After the airfield was secured, transport aircraft were able to bring in a large number of mountain troops who were then able to overwhelm the defending force. The defenders were at a disadvantage due to the poor command communications systems. General Freyberg often was uninformed about the course of the battle, until the battle was lost.

The capture of the bridge over the Corinth canal in Greece in April 1941 was a good example where paratroops were used with the element of surprise. There was considerable secrecy involved (apparently), and the paratroops were dropped and caught the largely undefended area by surprise and took the bridge. To achieve a degree of surprise needed for the successful use of paratroops was why the British and American airborne troops were dropped at night at Normandy in June 1944. The operation still went awry due to the air transports totally ignoring the need for navigation. The paratroops ended up being scattered across Normandy in small parties, not able to reform units.

Now, special forces are dropped by parachute with an eye to achieving surprise and a degree of stealth. That is what is needed for any successful use of parachutists.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The German plan for Crete in 1941

The proposal for the airborne attack on Crete had only been made on 15 April 1941. There was only time for five weeks of planning and preparation prior to the attack on 20 May 1941. General Lohr had made the pitch to Field Marshal Goering. General Lohr planned to use General Student's XI Air Corps and General von Richthofen's VIII Air Corps for the attack. The units and aircraft were only in place on airfields in Southern Greece by 14 May. The Germans expected to be fighting one division, plus remnants evacuated from Greece in late April. General Student wanted to make four attacks in Crete, but there were insufficient aircraft to provide air cover for more than three simultaneous attacks. The plan then tried to accommodate that by making two attacks int morning and two in the afternoon on 20 May. That immediately handicapped the attacking force and reduced the chances for success. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Naval support at Crete early in the attack

Admiral Cunningham, the Mediterranean Fleet commander, had a plan in place to keep seaborne invaders of Crete at bay. He had three cruiser-destroyer groups with supporting battleships to their westward. There were more ships at Alexandria, including the aircraft carrier Formidable (with only four aircraft) and two more battleships. On the evening of 20 May-21 May 1941, one cruiser-destroyer group fired on Italian motor torpedo boats and damaged four. The British had expected to see German troops brought to Crete by sea in caiques, but they were absent in the first day or two. So, the initial German attack was left to airborne troops supported by land-based aircraft from the Balkans. General Lohr commanded both the airborne troops and their transports and supporting fighter and bomber aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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